Telephone Screening

Miles Cooper provides some tips on how to make a good impression…

Career-management experts estimate that more than 80% of job interviews are won or lost during the first five minutes of conversation. This includes telephone interviews. So what you say (and, importantly, how you say it) in those crucial first minutes could have a major effect on your future career aspirations.

First thing’s first, ask the recruiter (we’re assuming here that the initial call is from an agency or a junior HR person) to repeat his or her name – confirm the spelling with them and write it down.

If you aren’t free to speak or the room you are in is somewhat noisy then let them know this and either transfer the call to another extension or take it with you into another room. Before resuming the call take a few deep breathes, compose yourself and prepare to make an impression.

The following tips should help:  

Be Prepared

Anyone conducting a comprehensive job hunt should expect recruiters to call at unexpected moments, perhaps even when you’re at home. Make sure you are ready to go at any given time by:

  • Having a place to keep notes and files
  • Keeping paper and pencils by the phone- Instructing family members on how to answer the telephone and take messages
  • Preparing three to five key statements about your strengths and listing them on cards for easy reference
  • Reviewing questions that you can reasonably expect to be asked and preparing answers for them.  

Sound Positive, Confident and Professional

What you say and how you say it is critical to your career future. If you’re properly organised, take out your notes for easy reference during the interview. The fact that the recruiter has called you indicates that your CV or a member of your network has given him or her a favourable impression of you. You need to confirm this impression.

Put a smile on your face and into your voice. You need to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest through your voice and telephone manner. Some people find they sound more animated if they stand while talking on the phone. Others say it helps to keep one hand free. Having a lively sounding voice makes you seem upbeat and full of energy. Check how your voice sounds by taping yourself while role-playing a telephone interview. Listen to yourself, then decide if you would hire the voice you just heard. If not, make the necessary changes.  

Focus On What You Can Offer

Employers hire people for what they can do for them. The recruiter’s mission is to screen candidates and recommend those who will best meet the employer’s needs. Your goal is to be recommended for further consideration. When describing your background, reinforce the positive and avoid the negative. You’ll only get one chance to make a positive first impression. Stay focused by reviewing and use the key points you wrote down about your strengths.  

Listen Well

Avoid interrupting and let the recruiter complete his thought or question before you respond. Ask for clarification. Use open-ended questions. The more information you can gather, the better you can respond.  

Keep An Open Mind

Work towards creating a partnership with the recruiter. Look for areas of common ground. Build on the positive. Find ways to help the recruiter explain why your candidacy will make their job easier and make the hiring manager look good. This can help you create a win-win relationship with the recruiter.

Think Creatively

Prepare responses to these typical interview questions:

  • What are you looking for?
  • Why are you looking to change?
  • Are you currently employed? If not, why?
  • What are your current earnings?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Are you willing to relocate? Change industries? Travel?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?  

Practice Reading Your Responses Aloud

This will help you to remember the response and sound natural when providing it. By knowing what to say, you’ll seem more confident, in control, organised and focused, all qualities that recruiters seek in candidates. Most candidates usually are asked about their salary expectations during screening interviews. Recruiters and employers usually have a salary range in mind, and while often unwilling to share it at this stage, they expect you to answer.

Your objective at this point is to win acceptance and be recommended for further consideration. Accordingly, you may want to avoid providing a direct answer to this question and reply instead by saying something like, “While compensation is important, other issues are also important. If they can be clarified, then the compensation issue won’t be a problem.” These issues could include non-cash benefits and compensation, scope of responsibilities, work environment, job location, career advancement and others. It’s OK to ask the recruiter what the job pays and can help both parties in the screening process.

What’s Next?

At the end of the interview, tell the recruiter you’re interested and want to pursue the matter further. Ask about the next step in the interview process. If you don’t receive a positive response and you’re sincerely interested, ask the recruiter if he or she has any areas of concern. If there’s a misunderstanding about you or the recruiter doesn’t seem certain that you’re suitable, try to clarify the problem, then ask again about the next step. 

Following these tips should help you get to the next phase in the recruitment process. Good luck!